Eat With Your Hands
by Zakary Pelaccio
Publisher: Ecco, Country: US
ISBN: 9780061554209, Year: 2012
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Eat With Your Hands is the first book by Zakary Pellacio of New York’s celebrated restaurants Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue. In this book he takes Southeast Asian classics and reinvents them with his Italian heritage and French training, or conjures new dishes with a distinct flavor profile which would not look out of place on a Malaysian table. The dishes are time-consuming, challenging, and require good sourcing of exotic ingredients, but always rewarding.

Full review

Structure of the book

The book has 136 recipes in 14 chapters and 362 pages:
A Frog (1 recipe)
Fish (8 recipes)
Shellfish (13 recipes)
Noodles (6 recipes)
Poultry (9 recipes)
Bunny Bunny (2 recipes)
Lamb and Goat (8 recipes)
Pork (26 recipes)
Beef (9 recipes)
Salads and Vegetables (12 recipes)
Snacks (9 recipes)
Pickles and Preserves (10 recipes)
Condiments (11 recipes)
and Stocks (6 recipes)
There is a Glossary at the end for exotic ingredients. There are a few full-page photographs throughout the book of selected dishes.

About the author

Zakary Pelaccio is the executive chef and owner of renowned New York restaurants Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue. He was also the owner of the Chickenbone Cafe in Williamsburg and 5 Ninth in the Meatpacking district, and helped develop Suka, which won England’s Food & Travel Magazine “Best Asian Restaurant of 2007″ award. He has cooked in Kuala Lumpur’s Seri Melayu restaurant and subsequently trained at the French Culinary Institute. In 2010 he was awarded Outstanding Alumnus by the International Culinary Center.

Main review

In my opinion, this book is easily one of the most exciting cookbooks to be released in recent years. Outside Betty Saw’s enduring classic, it’s difficult to name an instantly recognizable Malaysian cookbook, so by that criterion alone, this book already stands out. However, this is not a cookbook of classics: this is a cookbook for the hipster-approved Malaysian-inspired restaurants of the “Fatty” empire. Beyond a green papaya salad, Pan Mee, Assam Laksa, Pork Buns, Chicken Clay Pot, roast pig, and Beef Rendang, there’s very few traditional dishes; it’s packed with Pelaccio’s originals, and even the dishes above have a decidedly French/Italian twist to the methodology. There’s a lot of brining and braising in this book, which will probably elicit an eye-roll from purists of Southeast Asian cuisine, but the resulting flavors and textures are hard to argue with (though you may argue about the ease of preparation: at one point preparing the Beef Rendang and going through the food processor, immersion blender, and two large roasting pans, I began to wonder what was so wrong with the old method). Pelaccio doesn’t pretend that he’s perfected the flavor profile of any of the dishes– in the introduction, he acknowledges that the recipes are merely the blueprint, and if you don’t like some dishes of Fatty Crab, then you likely won’t enjoy these either. As blueprints, the recipes are great points for jumping off, especially if you’ve tasted the dishes at the restaurant and felt like you could tweak it to your taste.

The dishes are true to the ones found in the restaurant: Smoked Ribs with Fish Sauce and Palm Sugar Syrup, Pork Buns, Chili Crab, Fried Rabbit, Crispy Pork and Watermelon Salad, Nasi Ulam– fans will enjoy recreating these dishes at home. However, this also means that those who don’t have access to a respectable Asian market that offers both exotic prepared ingredients (Cincalok, Belacan, Gula Jawa, Daun Salam) and fresh ingredients (Thai chilies, Galangal, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaves) will find the book a substantial challenge to cook from, and a constant temptation to drop serious cash at the grocery store or online shops. Annoyingly (and apparently a common problem with big, meat-based cookbooks), the brine recipe for the pork makes an obscene amount (more than 11 liters) for the measly 1.5kg of meat it is supposed to cover.

If procuring ingredients and certain cuts of meat is not an issue for some readers, then the other obstacle that must be overcome is the equipment. This is only an issue for a handful of pork recipes, but a smoker is required. I imagine very few will undertake smoking a whole pig, but the book outlines the procedure for those who own an adequately large smoker. Otherwise, be prepared to use a deep roasting pan for braising (I used a Dutch oven), and a large pot for frying.

The recipes are well-written and contain adequate instruction for the intermediate home cook. There’s a few expletives and odd opinions strewn throughout some recipes, but at least sounds friendly and natural, and doesn’t smack of playing up his hipster cred to the media. Each recipe is accompanied by music and beverage suggestions.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Fans of Southeast Asian cooking will benefit from reading this book. It won’t teach you the traditional methods of cooking classic dishes, but it will leave you excited and with the impression that there is still so much room for growth and adaptation in Asian cuisine.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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One Comment

  1. Rob
    Posted 04 Jul 2012 at 00:43 | Permalink

    I’m so glad you reviewed this book. Malaysian and Indonesian are my two absolute most favorite cuisines, and I had totally not caught that the book covered Malaysian based on its title. Thanks for bringing it to my attention – a definite buy for me.

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